By Kirsten Bublitz 

The Catholic Sun 

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., – – It may have been a record for the number of concelebrants gathered around the altar at Holy Trinity Newman Center in Flagstaff near Northern Arizona University. More than 20 priests concelebrated a special Mass with Bishop John P. Dolan of the Diocese of Phoenix June 9.  

The Mass marked the installation of Fr. Matthew Lowry as Episcopal Vicar of the North, the first for the Phoenix Diocese. While Fr. Lowry’s brother priests supported him on the altar, Fr. Lowry’s family, staff members and parishioners and students of the NAU Newman Center supported him in the congregation.  

Vicar General Fr. John Muir was one of the many priests who took part in the liturgy. He and Fr. Lowry grew up together at St. Theresa Parish “under the watchful eye of Fr. Kieffer,” according to Fr. Muir. Fr. Kieffer, Vicar for Synodality and Planning, was also present to celebrate Fr. Lowry’s installation.  

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Fr. Muir reminisced about the early days of his friendship with Fr. Lowry.

“When I first met Fr. Matt I thought,’ he’s a fun guy, great sense of humor,’ but he really annoyed because of the way he played basketball. He was Mr. Hustle no matter what you did,” Fr. Muir laughed. 

“[Fr. Matt], that drive and that hustle you’ve used for years and years in evangelizing and reaching out to people — just think of [the people] that have been impacted the past 15 years [and who] Fr. Matt has brought the love and mercy of Jesus to.” 

Fr. Lowry will continue as the pastor of Holy Trinity Newman Center while taking on this additional role, visiting parishes in Coconino, Mohave and Yavapi counties and supporting the priests and parishes there.  

Bishop Dolan took the opportunity during his homily to explain the role of every baptized Christian to be a vicar of Christ.  

“What does that mean to be a vicar of Christ? We have to follow Christ, and we are a mirror image of Christ, the face of Christ. We are called to take Him wherever we go, especially as we receive the Eucharist,” Bishop Dolan said.  

“We don’t walk ahead of Him — we don’t even walk behind Him. We walk with Him. [A vicar] is a reflection of Christ.” 

Angela Vargas has worked with Fr. Lowry at Holy Trinity Newman Center the past 12 years and has served as the chief operations officer the past four years. Fr. Lowry had been a priest for just over a year before becoming the pastor of the NAU Newman Center. Vargas had a front row seat to see him grow into the priest he is today, a priest she said reflects Christ most notably by his ability to be present to the person in front of him. Vargas described the installation Mass with tears in her eyes.  

It was such an honor to see such a holy man be blessed with an even bigger flock than he had before. I know he will call them by name and lead them well,” Vargas said.  

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“He encounters someone and knows them by name. That’s why so many students keep coming back to the Newman Center. Just like Mary Magdalene, when she encounters the gardener — it’s not until He says ‘Mary’ that she knows who it is. We all want our name called and Fr. Matt is good about that.”  

Vargas pointed out the vastness of the diocese, noting that Fr. Alfredo Valdez-Molina of La Santisima Trinidad Catholic Mission in Scenic, Ariz., drove five hours to be in attendance. He was a visual representation of the magnitude of the 44,000 square-mile diocese and why a role like Fr. Lowry’s was created, to be a voice for the Northern parishes.  

Vargas sees Fr. Lowry’s time at the Newman Center as formative in preparing him for this additional role.  

The Newman Center is so diverse with students and parishioners. Every day we have an opportunity to encounter not only the love of God but the brokenness of the human being. Fr. Matt’s deep love for everyone he encounters and the empathy he feels for each individual has only grown, which allows him to serve others more deeply.” 

Bishop Dolan also recognized Fr. Lowry’s time at Holy Trinity Newman Center to be formative. With Fr. Lowry’s current assignment at the Newman Center lasting 14 years and counting, he has a knowledge of the Northern part of the diocese that many priests don’t. 

Fr. Lowry’s time at the Newman Center has also been instrumental in showing students how to live the Great Commission, to not stay within the confines of the center but to go on campus and encounter God’s people there. Fr. Lowry models what that looks like, frequently riding his longboard through campus, playing pickup basketball at the recreation center and eating lunch with students in the Hot Spot, an on-campus dining facility. Now, Fr. Lowry will be living out the Great Commission on an even larger scale.

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“I wanted an Episcopal Vicar for the North to look at the Christian communities along with the deans in each of those areas, to make sure that we are doing our very best to keep that Gospel proclamation of Jesus in Matthew 28, ‘Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit,'” Bishop Dolan said.

“How are we capturing that commission to go and make disciples? Always making sure that we are with Christ, and we don’t step ahead of the Lord. We let Him evangelize us first and from there we go forth.”  

Being in step with the Lord, Bishop Dolan dreams of what could happen in the diocese with Fr. Lowry’s new role. One dream is fostering more vocations to the priesthood from the North and filling a future seminary with not just men from Mohave County but all counties that are part of the diocese, the bishop added. Another dream is to make the diaconate more accessible to men in the North by creating another track for the program that would allow men to be formed without making the trips to the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Phoenix. 

Fr. Lowry recognized that many of Bishop Dolan’s dreams came from the bishop’s attentiveness to the needs of the North.  

“[Bishop Dolan], thank you for hearing the voices of so many people in the North who, as I’ve gotten to know, can feel a little more removed [from the diocese]. My appointment was a response to that, that [Bishop Dolan] is listening and he cares very much and wants to be connected to the people in the North,” Fr. Lowry said.  

“At the end of the day, I want to do the Lord’s will. I said ‘yes’ to the Lord years ago when I lay down as a deacon and it was like, ‘All right, Lord. I’m all in wherever you are sending me. I want you to work through me.’”